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Through their eyes

Join the Royal New Zealand Air Force as they celebrate International Women's Day 2024. Hear from Melissa, Christine and Leigh about life in service as an aviator and their thoughts on being wāhine in the New Zealand Defence Force.

08 March, 2024

Squadron Leader Melissa Mikaere

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Squadron Leader Melissa Mikaere joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force straight out of school. Read her story here:

“I’m a ‘Bay’ girl from Flaxmere, Hawke’s Bay, which is a low-decile area. I liked sports and new adventures. I didn’t want to get a student loan to go to university when I didn’t really know what I wanted to do there. I’d heard that in the Defence Force you got paid to play sport!

“I’m a Logistics Officer located in Auckland. I’m in charge of the logistics squadron that provides support primarily to the Auckland and Woodbourne-based RNZAF operations. We have 86 people located in two different locations in New Zealand. My husband is also serving and my father was in the NZ Army. 

“I’ve been able to represent the New Zealand Defence Force in soccer and hockey, play warm-up games for the Black Sticks and do marathon events with my mum. The adventures have changed since I have a 20-month-old and a four-year-old!

“A time in my career I’m really proud of is the support to No. 3 Squadron during the Kaikoura Earthquake, working as the 3 Squadron Adjutant to the four NH90 and two A109 aircraft located at Christchurch and Kaikoura for three-to-four weeks. There were between 70 and 120 personnel needing to be supported with equipment/meals/medical/accommodation and a variety of other requirements, allowing them to focus on their job of flying the aircraft to take essential equipment in, transport police in and transport out high-risk people like pregnant women and elderly persons requiring medical care.

“What makes a supportive environment for our personnel? I don’t think there is any one thing. I think that its lots of little actions, because actions do speak louder than words. I try to spend time with people that work in my unit so I understand them and what is important in their lives.

“The NZDF’s breastfeeding policy has allowed new mothers to have the choice to take their babies with them on course, and have the accommodation and support made available. This has not been easy for them but they have the option without the financial costs being covered by themselves. I have also had a lot more women choose to return to work, with a variety of flexible working arrangements to help their family cope and allow them to come back to work.

“Like in the civilian world, I think that if we want women to continue to build their careers or hold the job they are in to also prioritise family, we need to allow that as an option – to be able to put careers on hold while still continuing to work for NZDF.”

Corporal Christine Connell

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“I grew up in Central Otago; our closest neighbours were about five kilometres up the road in the Ida Valley.  I’ve always loved playing hockey, but any kind of adventure sports gets me going: hiking, wakeboarding, snowboarding, love it.

“I joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a Logistics Specialist in 2014. Before that I was a beauty therapist working on a cruise line around Miami. After six months, missing New Zealand, I was ready for a new adventure. That was 10 years ago now! In the Royal New Zealand Air Force, there are always opportunities to improve yourself: a course to jump on or a new role to learn. I also love the sense of belonging.

“I am currently an instructor at the Mission Support Training Squadron, teaching our upcoming Logistics Specialists their Basic and Advanced trade training. I spend most my day in the classroom teaching, but to break it up I try to get to PT (Physical Training) when our trainees do. There is also a lot of lesson preparation that goes on behind the scenes, along with marking and preparing phase tests for the students.

“A perk of the job for me has been travelling for sport. In 2019 I called on my previous experience/qualifications as a massage therapist to support the RNZAF and NZDF women’s Rugby teams while touring Australia! Playing for the NZDF Hockey team at Nationals in Tauranga was also an experience I will never forget.

An achievement I’m really proud of during my time in the Air Force was being selected for the Degree Trainee Scheme. This was an opportunity to study full time through AUT.  I completed my Bachelor of Business management in just under three years by doing some extra papers over the summer breaks. Navigating COVID-19 lockdowns while studying and being a solo parent was a challenging experience, but I graduated with Honours in 2023.

“A particular role model that has influenced me in my career was Group Captain Susie Barns. I remember listening to her presentation at a training day when I was really new to the service and being in awe of her ability to excel in her career, while managing a family at home and training for a marathon. She showed me women can be absolute power houses, that you can be a mum and still have a kick ass career too.

Warrant Officer Leigh Gurney

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Warrant Officer Gurney joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1987, answering an ad in the newspaper. The rest, she says, is history.

“I grew up in Christchurch in the suburb of Aranui, one of the poorer suburbs in Christchurch.  I attended Aranui Primary and High Schools and Chisnallwood Intermediate School.  I love the outdoors and played most sports. I grew up playing team sports at school which has helped me relate to the team environment of the New Zealand Defence Force.   

“I now work part-time on the Air Force Reserve three days a week in Joint Forces Headquarters as  the Exchange Programme Manager. I coordinate personnel going on exchange and work with our host nations to assist receiving personnel from overseas on exchange to New Zealand. My husband and his son are both Army engineers.

“I’m incredibly proud of having served 35 coming up 36 years in the Defence Force. I joined in a generation that saw the military as a career for life and it certainly has turned out to be that with so many different experiences and working with great people.

“Probably my biggest mentors were my parents and grandparents, who have all passed away now. They were the biggest influence on me growing up and instilling in me to work hard to get what and where you want to go, there are no free rides in life.”